Saturday, June 11, 2011

Varanasi...or very-nasty?

We've been out of touch with civilization for the past few days (Dayna will tell you about it later) but we're finally onto the Varanasi post #2. Actually, I think 2 is a very appropriate number to associate with this city. Along with the monumental Ganges River, Varanasi's most distinct feature is its poop-filled streets. For a holy city, Varanasi is pretty impure. To get around the area near the Ganges River, one must maneuver their way through a maze of narrow alleyways filled with obstacles of various sizes and bacterial infections. The roads really do feel like a maze. But instead of dead ends, there are inconveniently located cows and large puddles of mystery liquid (its better not to know). The day we arrived we found it difficult to understand what makes Varanasi such a holy city. It can't be the heavily polluted Ganges river inhabited by floating tires and 3-eyed fish. Well, the moment I stepped foot into the streets a came up with a hypothesis: cows! an abundance of cows! Cows have roamed the streets of just about every city we've visited, but none have compared to the mass horde in Varanasi. Cows are considered sacred animals according to the Hindu religion... coincidence? I think not! I've heard of many people who have felt spiritually uplifted after their visit to Varanasi. Perhaps they were lucky enough to get infected with one of the many sacred cow diseases.

The sight of a cow poses a difficult dilemma: walk behind or front? If you walk behind, there's a good chance of receiving a face-ful of the key ingredient of the mystery puddle. But on the other hand, a couple of days ago I learned that walking in front is just as dangerous. I discovered this as I was headbutted by a cow in the middle of the road. We've been subject to so many near death road experiences, a rear-ending was bound to happen at least once or twice.

Along with my spiritually enriching run-in with a cow, our 5-day stay in Varanasi showed us the close connection that Hindus have with the Ganges river. We appreciated watching the beautiful nightly ceremony that takes place in front of the river. We also witnessed the death rituals that take place by the Ganges. Many Hindus request that their remains be thrown into the river when they die. There were a few times when we actually watched bodies being burned in front of the river. It became clear that the religious and non-religious lives of the people of Varanasi are closely tied to the river. One morning I woke up at 5 AM to watch the beautiful sunrise and see the locals bathing (not in a voyeuristic way), washing their clothes and even taking swimming lessons.

 Alright, that's all I have time for right now. I promise we'll try to write more frequently, but we're just having too much fun!

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